In yesterday’s post, I talked about Reframing on Grace and Realigning on Mission as steps to revitalize a church in a gospel-centered way.
The word revitalize comes from a Latin word that we probably know: vitalis. We think of vital organs as those that are necessary for life. So a church needs life, or it will die.
A different metaphor of church as a blighted urban neighborhood might help us to understand how to bring a dead church back on track. Basically, planners can either gentrify or revitalize a neighborhood. Gentrification is a kind of top-down approach where the urban planners allow the neighborhood to go downhill. When the neighborhood becomes so blighted that people don’t want to live there anymore, the planners bulldoze the place and build million dollar condos.
Revitalization of a neighborhood is more of a ground-up approach where people are empowered to use their abilities to make the neighborhood better. It takes time and shepherding, but it can work. The same thing goes for a church. And revitalization is possible because we serve a God who specializes in resurrections.
That’s the gospel. That’s the good news that God can revitalize the dead. So let me move on to my final three R’s.
Third, recast gospel vision
How do we recast gospel vision? Part of gospel vision is tied to this idea of the grace of God. It's understanding that God is at work in you, both to will and to do for his good pleasure, Paul writes in Philippians (2:12-13). The question is the where question. It's so much more than being gospel centered in church.
If you don’t talk about the gospel to your neighbor, you're doing it wrong.
Recasting gospel vision means that it is the gospel vision that shapes us. It's not getting saved and then getting over the gospel. Instead, we have the privilege of dwelling in the beauty of the gospel by keeping our conversations peppered with the gospel. So recasting that gospel vision continues to put before people both a way to behave and a way to believe. This changes everything.
Fourth, remember the journey
This is church revitalization, not church planting. A lot of people in the gospel-centered movement have gotten a little bit ahead of themselves. They've fallen in love with the church that does not yet exist.
They go to a church that does exist, but they don't remember its journey. They may not know the history of all that God has done in and through the church. Maybe they read a book or went to a seminar, but they really don’t know what the church used to be, and all the good it has done. We must remember the fact that our churches, and the people in them, are on a journey. We must love our people, lead them, teach the gospel to them, preach the Bible to them, lead them in sharing the gospel, and then share back their journeys.
One of the things I do at Moody Church is quote former pastors. I talk about how people have worked in the past, and then I share what God is doing today and in the future.
Finally, renew all things
We need to consistently ask, How is God at work? I love church revitalization and the reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of churches that are stuck and stagnant that need to refocus to see a change take place in the way they are doing ministry. Our hard work to keep these churches going, I believe, is honoring to God.
So my exhortation to all of us is to renew all things by constantly asking, “How can we celebrate the gospel even more? How can we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit even more? How can we share the gospel with people who do not know it even more?”
When we begin to seriously address these questions, I believe we will experience church change, and God’s name and fame will be more widely known in our church communities, and ultimately, around the world.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.